Today’s Prayer Focus

Heaven Is for Real

also known as “Heaven's for Real”
MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for thematic material including some medical situations.

Review by: Dr. John F. MacArthur
provided through ANSWERS IN GENESIS (Christian Answers team member)

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens Family
Drama Adaptation
1 hr. 40 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
April 16, 2014 (wide—2,300+ theaters)
DVD: July 22, 2014
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Relevant Issues
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importance of Christian discernment about spiritual claims

revelation outside of God’s Word

importance of truth

NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES— Who is the being of light encountered in near-death experiences? Answer


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Featuring Greg KinnearTodd Burpo
Kelly ReillySonja Burpo
Thomas Haden ChurchJay Wilkins
Connor Corum … Colton Burpo
Lane Styles … Cassie Burpo
Margo Martindale … Nancy Rawling
Jacob Vargas … Michael
Thanya Romero … Rosa
Danso Gordon … Ray
Rob Moran … Dr. O'Holleran
See all »
Director Randall Wallace—“Secretariat,” “The Man in the Iron Mask” and writer of “Braveheart”
Producer Roth Films
Screen Gems
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Distributor Distributor: Sony Pictures. Trademark logo.Sony Pictures

Secret knowledge? Are visits to heaven for real?

Editor’s Note: This film was produced by wealthy Word-Faith movement, megachurch Bishop T.D. Jakes, a Progressive Liberal Pentecostal preacher. This should be a red flag for mature followers of Christ. The film is based on a book titled Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back—a major money producer (more than 7-million sold). Many factual claims made in the book have been researched and found erroneous (not Biblical, contradictory, etc.). The book (and film) are not safe sources of factual information. We caution viewers to remain skeptical about the veracity of everything they see and hear in this movie.

In recent years, Christian booksellers have inundated the evangelical world with testimonies from people who say they visited heaven in near-death experiences. Their stories are full of specific details about what heaven is like, who is there, and what is happening in the celestial realm. But when we compare their claims with Scripture, it becomes clear that they are merely figments of the human imagination, not true visions of heaven as it is described in God’s Word.

The best known of all these tales, Heaven Is for Real, is now a major motion picture. It is the story of Colton Burpo, whose parents believe he visited heaven when he was just four—during surgery after a burst appendix nearly took his life. Colton’s descriptions of heaven are full of fanciful features and peculiar details that bear all the earmarks of a child’s vivid imagination. There’s nothing transcendent or even particularly enlightening about Colton’s heaven. It is completely devoid of the breathtaking glory featured in every biblical description of the heavenly realm.

Stories like Colton’s are as dangerous as they are seductive. Readers not only get a twisted, unbiblical picture of heaven; they also imbibe a subjective, superstitious, shallow brand of spirituality. Studying mystical accounts of supposed journeys into the afterlife yields nothing but confusion, contradiction, false hope, bad doctrine, and a host of similar evils.

We live in a narcissistic culture, and it shows in these accounts of people who claim they’ve been to heaven. They sound as if they viewed paradise in a mirror, keeping themselves in the foreground. They say comparatively little about God or His glory. But the glory of God is what the Bible says fills, illuminates, and defines heaven. Instead, the authors of these stories seem obsessed with details like how good they felt—how peaceful, how happy, how comforted they were; how they received privileges and accolades; how fun and enlightening their experience was; and how many things they think they now understand perfectly that could never be gleaned from Scripture alone. In short, they glorify self while barely noticing God’s glory. They highlight everything but what’s truly important about heaven.

It is quite true that heaven is a place of perfect bliss—devoid of all sorrow and sin, full of exultation and enjoyment—a place where grace and peace reign totally unchallenged. Heaven is where every true treasure and every eternal reward is laid up for the redeemed. Anyone whose destiny is heaven will certainly experience more joy and honor there than the fallen mind is capable of comprehending—infinitely more than any fallen creature deserves. But if you actually saw heaven and lived to tell about it, those things are not what would capture your heart and imagination.

You would be preoccupied instead with the majesty and grace of the One whose glory fills the place.

Sadly, undiscerning readers abound, and they take these postmodern accounts of heaven altogether seriously. The stratospheric sales figures and far-reaching influence of these books ought to be a matter of serious concern for anyone who truly loves the Word of God.

See these important critiques of the film’s claims

The Bible on Near-Death Experiences

There is simply no reason to believe anyone who claims to have gone to heaven and returned. John 3:13 says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” [NLT: “No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”] And John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.”

Four biblical authors had visions of heaven—not near-death experiences. Isaiah and Ezekiel (Old Testament prophets) and Paul and John (New Testament apostles) all had such visions. Two other biblical figures—Micaiah and Stephen—got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is merely mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).

Only three of these men later wrote about what they saw—and the details they gave were comparatively sparse (Isaiah 6:1–4; Ezekiel 1, 10; Revelation 4–6). All of them focused properly on God’s glory. They also mentioned their own fear and shame in the presence of such glory. They had nothing to say about the mundane features that are so prominent in modern tales about heaven (things like picnics, games, juvenile attractions, familiar faces, odd conversations, and so on). Paul gave no actual description of heaven but simply said what he saw would be unlawful to utter. In short, the biblical descriptions of heaven could hardly be any more different from today’s fanciful stories about heaven.

Lazarus of Bethany fell ill and died, and his body lay decaying in a tomb for four days until Jesus raised him (John 11:17). A whole chapter in John’s Gospel is devoted to the story of how Jesus brought him back from the dead. But there’s not a hint or a whisper anywhere in Scripture about what happened to Lazarus’s soul in that four-day interim. The same thing is true of every person in Scripture who was ever brought back from the dead, beginning with the widow’s son whom Elijah raised in 1 Kings 17:17–24 and culminating with Eutychus, who was healed by Paul in Acts 20:9–12. Not one biblical person ever gave any recorded account of his or her postmortem experience in the realm of departed souls.

Crossing the Boundaries

Far too much of the present interest in heaven, angels, and the afterlife stems from carnal curiosity. It is not a trend biblical Christians should encourage or celebrate. Any pursuit that diminishes people’s reliance on the Bible is fraught with grave spiritual dangers—especially if it is something that leads gullible souls into superstition, gnosticism, occultism, New Age philosophies, or any kind of spiritual confusion. Those are undeniably the roads most traveled by people who feed a morbid craving for detailed information about the afterlife, devouring stories of people who claim to have gone to the realm of the dead and returned.

Scripture never indulges that desire. In the Old Testament era, every attempt to communicate with the dead was deemed a sin on par with sacrificing infants to false gods (Deuteronomy 18:10–12). The Hebrew Scriptures say comparatively little about the disposition of souls after death, and the people of God were strictly forbidden to inquire further on their own. Necromancy was a major feature of Egyptian religion. It also dominated every religion known among the Canaanites. But under Moses’s law it was a sin punishable by death (Leviticus 20:27).

The New Testament adds much to our understanding of heaven (and hell), but we are still not permitted to add our own subjective ideas and experience-based conclusions to what God has specifically revealed through His inerrant Word. Indeed, we are forbidden in all spiritual matters to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Those who demand to know more than Scripture tells us about heaven are sinning:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

The limits of our curiosity are thus established by the boundary of biblical revelation. In the words of Charles Spurgeon,

It’s a little heaven below, to imagine sweet things. But never think that imagination can picture heaven. When it is most sublime, when it is freest from the dust of Earth, when it is carried up by the greatest knowledge, and kept steady by the most extreme caution, imagination cannot picture heaven. “It hath not entered the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Imagination is good, but not to picture to us heaven. Your imaginary heaven you will find by-and-by to be all a mistake; though you may have piled up fine castles, you will find them to be castles in the air, and they will vanish like thin clouds before the gale. For imagination cannot make a heaven. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man to conceive” it. [Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, 6 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1856), 2:18.]

What God has revealed in Scripture is the only legitimate place to get a clear understanding of the heavenly kingdom. God’s written Word does in fact give us a remarkably full and clear picture of heaven and the spiritual realm. But the Bible still leaves many questions unanswered.

We need to accept the boundaries God Himself has put on what He has revealed. It is sheer folly to speculate where Scripture is silent. It is sinfully wrong to try to investigate spiritual mysteries using occult means. And it is seriously dangerous to listen to anyone who claims to know more about God, heaven, angels, or the afterlife than God Himself has revealed to us in Scripture.

The Glories of Heaven

It is, however, right and beneficial for Christians to fix their hearts on heaven. Scripture commands us to cultivate that perspective:

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on Earth” (Colossians 3:1–2).

“While we do not look at the things which are seen but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

Such a perspective is the very essence of true faith, according to Hebrews 11. Those with authentic, biblical faith acknowledge that they are strangers and pilgrims on this Earth (v. 13). They are seeking a heavenly homeland (v. 14). They “desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (v. 16). The “city” that verse refers to is the heavenly Jerusalem, an unimaginable place—the very capital of heaven. It will be the eternal abode of the redeemed. No wonder Christians are intrigued with the subject.

About the author: John MacArthur is pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. Dr. MacArthur is also the author of more than one hundred books, covering a great expanse of Christian topics. He also is heard worldwide on his radio program Grace to You.

But no matter how much they might obsess over what heaven is like, people who fill their heads with a lot of fantastic or delusional ideas from others’ near-death experiences have not truly set their minds on things above. If the inerrant biblical truth God has given us is the only reliable knowledge about heaven we have access to (and it is), then that is what should grip our hearts and minds, not the dreams and speculations of human minds.

Review from Summit Ministries

“Heaven Is For Real” Review: What Is the Basis for Our Belief in Eternal Life?

When a young Todd Burpo asks his father if heaven is real, Mr. Burpo responds, “By the time I know, it will be too late to tell you.” But when Todd, by this point a pastor at Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska, hears his 4-year-old son describe his supposed journey to heaven, which he experienced while undergoing an emergency operation for a burst appendix, he is forced to ask: Can a young boy, who is near death, really experience heaven, walk with Jesus, and return to Earth to talk about it?

In the film adaptation of the New York Times bestselling book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, Rev. Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is skeptical of his son’s claims that, while he was on the operating table, he temporarily left his body and visited heaven.

“I want to believe [Colton]”, Todd says, “but everything he talks about is impossible.”

For most of the film, Todd is oscillating between doubt and belief, experiencing frustration, and becoming so enthralled by Colton’s story that he begins to focus on the afterlife at the expense of the present. As a result, his wife chides him for ignoring the family’s financial troubles and risking his own job over his obsession with what it was exactly that Colton witnessed.

Todd’s inability to account for Colton’s description of heaven leads him to the reluctant conclusion that his son was shown heaven — or, at least, a version of it that is intelligible to the mind of a young child. How else could Colton see himself, while the doctors were swiftly completing the surgery? How else could he see his mother, while she was calling friends and asking them to pray for her son? How else could he see his father, while he was sitting in the chapel and crying out to God? How else could Colton describe his conversation with “Pop,” his great-grandfather, and his unnamed sister who “died in Mommy’s tummy,” when he hardly knew the former and was not even aware of the latter?

Despite Todd’s doubts and his persistent efforts to find a rational explanation for his son’s story, he becomes convinced that Colton, an innocent young child, is telling the truth. Still, the film leaves open several other possibilities. In numerous scenes, children overhear their parents’ conversations, making it possible that Colton is aware of certain facts not because they were supernaturally revealed, but because they were discussed in his presence. Also, Colton describes the “markers” on Jesus’ hands and feet, even though, when the film depicts Colton’s visions, Jesus has no such wounds where the nails would have pierced his flesh during the crucifixion, meaning that Colton is either giving an inaccurate report or embellishing.

While reminiscing about his time spent walking with Jesus and sitting on his lap, Colton makes mention of Jesus’ rainbow-colored horse as well as Jesus’ blue-green eyes (a combination of his parents’ respective eye colors which would have been rare for a first-century Jewish male). In heaven, Colton discovers that everybody is young, nobody wears glasses, and everybody (including angels) laughs at his jokes. Throughout the film, Colton’s parents — and audience members — are forced to consider whether Colton’s vision is simply an amalgamation of childhood stories about heaven, the result of a vivid imagination, or an authentic, divinely-inspired event.

One of the most prominent proponents of the film, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, has hailed the film as an “experience” that will “change lives.” In a video in which he advises Christians to watch Heaven Is For Real, Rodriguez says, “[The story] speaks to the power of purity, how purity and innocence really carry the potential to see what others do not see. That’s what I call … holy, integrity, righteousness.”

Pastor John MacArthur, who, in addition to John Piper, has publicly lambasted Colton’s story, disagrees, saying, “There’s nothing transcendent or even particularly enlightening about Colton’s heaven. It is completely devoid of the breathtaking glory featured in every biblical description of the heavenly realm. … For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies — with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God — are simply untrue.”

As a story about a father’s attempt to make sense of his son’s incredible near-death experience, Heaven Is For Real is gripping, emotionally wrenching, and heartwarming. T.D. Jakes, one of the film’s producers, highlights this aspect when he says, “The story of Todd Burpo [and Colton Burpo] proves to us that faith, fear, and doubt can cohabitate in the same human being, that those who preach don’t always have the answers.”

But — regarding Colton’s actual claims — the film neither serves as proof of heaven nor a reliable description of the afterlife. Unfortunately, many readers of the book — and presumably, many viewers of the film — are taking Colton’s vision as scripture. One reviewer on the Thomas Nelson website wrote, “I learned so much about heaven by reading this book.” Even the book’s official summary reads, “Heaven Is For Real will forever change the way you think of eternity, offering the chance to see, and believe, like a child.” But if our view of heaven has already been shaped by Scripture, do we really need to change the way we think of eternity?

If unbelievers, who previously assumed that life after death was a mere fantasy, are influenced by the film so that they begin to consider the possibility of heaven and hell, then perhaps the film will have a positive impact. The existence of heaven, hell, and a final judgment are critical Christian beliefs that give life meaning. A final judgment makes ultimate justice possible, while the reality of an afterlife means we are responsible for our actions, which have eternal consequences. Furthermore, God’s offer of salvation attests to his merciful character, his everlasting love and faithfulness.

While Heaven Is For Real may entice unbelievers to search Scripture for God’s definitive revelation about the afterlife, the film, which grossed $21.5 million in its opening weekend, is being marketed primarily to Christians and not to atheists or agnostics. If Scripture assures us of the existence of both heaven and hell, then why are Christians so compelled to rely on the testimony of a 4-year-old boy, who experienced a strange vision of Jesus on a rainbow-colored horse?

Gary Smith, history professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, explains the success of Colton’s story — both the film and the book on which it is based — by referring to the need for proof, for signs that verify our beliefs. “Near-death journeys,” Smith writes, “perhaps more so than many other transformative personal religious experiences, are the closest thing to proof of God’s existence [for many].”

But near-death experiences should not be the closest thing we have to proof of God’s existence. The dreams and visions of a little boy during his appendicitis operation should not be a replacement for our search for God that occurs through Scripture reading, prayer, and church involvement. Scripture tells us all we need to know about heaven.

Biblical Insights

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the only proof of heaven we need (Matthew 12:38-40).

One day, some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove that you are from God.” But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, faithless generation would ask for a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:38-40).

Despite healing the sick, the blind, and the lame, miraculously feeding a crowd of 5,000 people, and raising people from the dead, the scribes and Pharisees wanted more signs to confirm that Jesus was divine and that his teachings were authoritative. In response, Jesus said there would only be one sign — his own resurrection from the dead, which would testify to the truth of his words and serve as evidence of his divinity.

His subsequent resurrection from the dead is a sign to us, as well. Although we did not personally witness Jesus’ resurrection, we believe the eye-witnesses who have relayed the message to us. The apostles endured tremendous persecution for insisting that Jesus, who rose from the dead, is Lord. Paul writes, “[T]he fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again. … [T]here is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised first; then when Christ comes back, all his people will be raised” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).

Although we cannot see and touch the resurrected body of Christ — as the Apostle Thomas was able to do — we believe that, just as Jesus rose from the dead, we who believe in him will also be resurrected in order to dwell in the new heaven and the new Earth (1 Corinthians 6:14; Revelation 21:1). And we who live in the 21st century will be doubly blessed for believing without seeing.

We must trust in Scripture — in the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, who, along with John the Apostle, relay their respective visions of heaven in Isaiah 6:1-4, Ezekiel 1 and 10, and Revelation 4-6. We must trust in Christ, who repeatedly describes the heavenly and hellish destinations of the just and the unjust. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “[The King] will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ … Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons!’” (v. 33-34, 41).

It is understandable that Colton’s story has remained immensely popular, since people are desperate to know what happens to the soul after death. As the teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes says, “God has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecc. 3:11). Furthermore, the human demand for the accomplishment of perfect justice can only be fulfilled in the afterlife, when an all-knowing, all-powerful, morally perfect, and impartial judge renders a decisive verdict at the end of time, giving to each what is due according to his deeds.

In Scripture, we read that God will answer the universal and inescapable human longing for immortality and justice. The Apostle Paul writes that God, who will grant eternal life to those who believe in the testimony of the Messiah, will also administer justice, “For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds” (Romans 2:5-7).

Scripture assures us of the existence of both heaven and hell. So, what do we gain from trusting in the vision of a 4-year old boy?

At the end of the film, Todd Burpo says in his sermon, “If heaven is for real, we would all lead different lives, wouldn’t we?” For the secularist, life is meaningless, since there is no objective standard of good and evil and no afterlife in which one is judged for one’s actions. His actions now have no eternal consequences. But for the Christian, life is full of meaning and unceasing hope in the everlasting God who has imbued humankind with dignity and extended an offer of grace through His Son Jesus Christ. Christians believe both in an intermediate state of bodiless existence after death and in the resurrection of the body at the inauguration of the new heaven and the new Earth.

In Philippians, Paul writes that living is good, but dying would be even better, for in death he would be able to live with Christ and ultimately be resurrected in a heavenly body. But he presses on for the sake of his flock, so that he can contribute to their growth and their spiritual well-being. Paul pressed on confidently and unashamedly, preaching the gospel and living for Christ, because of his hope in the resurrection of the body. The basis for this hope is the reality of Christ’s resurrection, not the vision of a 4-year-old boy with appendicitis.

[Summit Ministries]

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—“Heaven Is For Real” exceeded my expectations. I thought it was both moving and inspirational. Connor Corum is ADORABLE as 4 year old Colton Burpo. Greg Kinnear’s portrayal—both moving and inspiring—as Colton’s father was as a very human man, struggling with all of his responsibilities and obstacles, yet building relationships. Kelly Reilly and Lane Styles were also admirable as they dealt with the issues raised by Colton’s experience.

Considering how often Christians and people of faith are belittled or ridiculed in movies, it was very refreshing to see a Christian community realistically portrayed—people reaching out and praying for others in a crisis, being there for one another, rejoicing over answered prayer, supporting one another, and addressing conflict with care and love. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Tori, age 40+ (USA)
Positive—After being disappointed by the Noah movie which I felt was a mockery of the story Christians know and love, I found that this movie “Heaven is for Real “brought joy and Hope. Anyone who has a four year old knows that a child of that age would not be capable of making up the story told. I think Colton told the truth, as he experienced it. It is not uncommon for God to work through children to bring people to the faith, I think that this movie was successful in doing just that, looking around in the theater at smiling faces made that quite evident after the movie ended.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Gail, age 52 (Canada)
Positive—I loved this movie. The action was a little slow in the beginning of the movie but it certainly picked up. I did not understand the pastor’s confusion over his son’s statements because it seemed obviously true to me. However, after reading the reviews it seems that most people fall into the category of belief or unbelief. Even the church seems in an uproar over the child’s statements. It is a movie well worth watching no matter where your beliefs lie. Maybe some can come to a new realization of God’s love and mercy. Perhaps, they will even realize that heaven is real.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Judy Opie, age 64 (USA)
Positive—“Heaven Is For Real” is a poignant film about a family trying to grapple with the testimony of their youngest son who had visions of heaven. His father, portrayed so well by Greg Kinnear, especially struggles because he can’t conceive of a person having visions of heaven without actually being present in spirit. He undoubtedly was not familiar with a passage of Scripture, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, in which the Apostle Paul relates an account of a fellow-believer who was “caught up to the third heaven,” whether in the body or out of the body. This is a tiny account of one child’s revelation or vision and not the whole picture of life in heaven. The film is enjoyable, touching and well-acted. This film is family fare and one you can discuss afterward about the hope of heaven we have because of Jesus Christ.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Liz Bartee, age 51 (USA)
Positive—…with spiritual caution I found the movie outstanding and very moving, but I recommend it with a spiritual caution as I will explain below. First of all I will start with the positives. The movie is a wonderful reminder of the truth of Heaven, for Christians to realize what waits for them when they die, and how we need to think through what we truly believe. We will be with Jesus and our loved ones, there will be no pain and everyone will be young again. I had goosebumps for most of the film.

Both the acting and special effects are outstanding, and it is a very well produced movie. What a sweet 4 year old actor who does a wonderful job for someone so young. The reactions of the children are very natural and believable of what children are really like. Also, the movie presents Christians and a pastor’s family as being normal and average people. Christians have problems too, and it often causes doubts and affects our ability to trust in God and His truths. It shows how the father who is a pastor counsels a person on his deathbed to ask for forgiveness from God. It is good to see a “Christian movie” do well at the box office, and I think it will do a lot of good to reach people, but it has the potential for harm as well. I preferred to concentrate on the good in the film while watching it, but it does have a few weaknesses from a spiritual point of view.

My main concern is the connection with child artist prodigy Akiane Kramarik who is controversial among discerning Christians. Many years ago I did a fair amount of reading about her as I was fascinated by her work and I ordered a book of her art work. At first glance she seems to be a victim of her upbringing… child of atheists who comes to a realization of God and Jesus through visions that she expresses through her art work. I read through her spiritual meditations and she has influences over her that seem to be some kind of weird spiritism, and I realized it involved a whole lot more than I saw at first glance. I was so uncomfortable with what I was reading that I could not keep the book in my house because my discernment meter was going off like crazy. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Kathy Pj, age 53 (Canada)
Positive—At the end of the movie, the father states that his son did not die, and he did not “go” to heaven… he simply saw God and God showed him a glimpse of heaven. If we can’t believe God showed this little boy these things how can we believe other visions accounted for in the Bible. Instead of finding all the faults in this movie, as well as other Christian based movies we (as Christians) should be praising God that movies like “Heaven is for Real,” “God’s Not Dead” and “Son of God” are starting to be shown all over the world and packing theaters.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Twogrlsandamommy, age 40 (USA)
Positive—I think this movie is fantastic!! It translated the views of the book very well, and shows proof of Matthew 19:26: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” God can use everyone to spread the good news, just like He used Colton to let everyone know that Heaven is for real and that there is hope for everyone after death. It is slightly disappointing that they didn’t try to convict skeptics, as there is little to no talk about how one person gets to Heaven. Instead, they end up letting the audience decide for themselves whether or not they believe this is real. That’s not a bad way to tell the story, but not the best way to tell it and its message.

“Soul Surfer” never had overt Christian convictions in the movie, and neither does this. But, the filmmakers are still worth applauding for bringing an inspiring story like this to the screen in a terrific fashion. No one can picture Heaven correctly (even the real Colton said they couldn’t come close), but, its still worth watching just for the interesting depiction that the movie offers. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Blake, age 19 (USA)
Positive—While the theology may not be right on this, it is still a positive movie. I don’t know if God showed the child a vision or what, but this movie was uplifting and a fun way to spend the afternoon.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
Christa, age 40 (USA)
Positive—This movie reflects what has happened in literally millions of NDEs around the world, without reducing it to anybody’s narrow view of what is “scripturally acceptable”. Often the world makes progress only when it turns its back on orthodox Christian teaching, and looks only at the facts that present themselves. The story of Galileo was a prime example of this. There seems to be much in this movie to annoy the pharisaically narrow-minded, but I enjoyed it more than I had expected to.
My Ratings: Moral rating: / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Luo Ge, age 66 (New Zealand)
Positive—This movie ended very well. It has a very strong message of God’s love for us all, and our duty, as Christians, to tell others that “they are not alone.” It was difficult at times to see the husband and wife struggling with their faith, being pastors and leaders of the flock. However, we must know that pastors are human and also struggle with life’s battles, the same as anyone else. I did feel that he and his wife should have had their faith grounded more on God’s Word so that when doubts came, they could brush them right off with scripture. It was good that in the end he stood up for what he came to know as the truth in spite of opposition by some members of the church and the community. Overall, it’s a good movie with a good message.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Jan, age 61 (Spain)
NeutralI was very disappointed in this movie. They had an opportunity to honor Jesus and chose instead to send a politically correct message that God is love and everyone goes to heaven. There is even a character that says in near death experiences that Christians see Jesus, Jews see Moses and Muslims see Mohamed. The only reference to Christ's death for our sins was that Colton said Jesus had markers on his hands and feet. There is another scene where the pastor visits a dying man and tells him that God forgives all, but again no mention of Jesus.

Also the movie contains a plot thread about the parents having sex. It was not necessary for the story and to me was included so they could have something sexy. Lastly, the prayers for Colton were so simple and superficial. Wouldn’t a pastor be able to pray something other than the Lord’s prayer? It showed him opening a Bible, but there was very little scripture ever shared. It was a clean movie with regard to language, but it could have been so much more.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
C. Nelson, age 53 (USA)
Neutral—The controversial move “Heaven Is for Real” is based on a true story of a four year old boy who had a near death experience. His father, a pastor of a small rural church, struggled with his faith and doubted his own son’s story, but eventually came to accept it and wrote a bestselling book. This film is a dramatization of those events.

In the movie, Todd Burpo’s son Colton is undergoing surgery to save his life. Burpo has a crisis of faith and questions God. When his son survives and begins to tell a tale of having seen a vision of Heaven (or actually going there, although he did not die) even Burpo doubts his son. Much of the film is about Burpo’s crisis in faith and the family. Is Colton lying? Did he have an hallucination? Is Heaven for real? It is no irony that if Todd questioned his son, then so have many others, including a great many in the Christian community. I will address some of the skeptics as well as the movie itself, because the one cannot be discussed without the other.

The Movie—From a strictly cinematic standpoint “Heaven Is for Real” is interesting, but not particularly moving. It has the feel of a Hallmark movie at times but is helped by its cast. Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church both lend a strong credibility to the film, but the weakness lies in the script. At times the movie seems disjointed, and the motivation for his crisis of faith is never fully explored (although I discuss my opinion on it below). Why does he doubt his son? Why is he unable to return to preach? Why are people in the church so angry with God and disturbed about the son’s vision? These questions are only superficially dealt with and too unsatisfactorily. The film seems to end on a weak note with Todd realizing that “Heaven is for real.” He then delivers a sermon to his church declaring that the reality of Heaven should make us live our lives with hope and love. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
Neutral—Everyone who has studied Paradise Lost in depth knows that John Milton wrote his epic poem based, at least in part, on the influence of what he called his “heavenly Muse.” What he was referring to was the Holy Spirit. Prior to Milton, a muse had always been categorized as a Greek goddess who revealed important things to mankind. Stay with me now. What I think Milton did was consciously transform pagan ideas to fit into Christian commentary. Of course, his account of heaven being filled with oriental flowers, bowers (or trees) specifically granted to certain angels to rest under, gargantuan-size mountains that were thrown through the air in battle, and especially the countenance of the I Am changing from dazzling sunshine to glowing moonlight during the course of one of heaven’s days is entirely fictional. And yet, we study this text in English classes at Christian universities. It is even studied at the university of which the one who wrote this article is the President. But let’s not get into that.

What seems to be the allure for many of us humans to outlandish descriptions of heaven? While I continue to stand by my comments in my “negative” review below, because they are Biblical, I wanted to concentrate now on this whole idea of the human need for fascination… specifically that of heaven. The reason that scholars, laypeople, and everyone in-between might buy a copy of Paradise Lost is that it is filled with imagery from our own world, even our own experiences… only that these images are being enhanced somehow in the text through exaggeration. For instance, explosive ballistics in warfare were becoming more widely used during Milton’s time, so it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to perhaps say that he was thinking of this while penning the battle scenes in heaven, where the grounds of heaven were thrown into upheaval and disorder and mountains were tossed through the air by angels at other angels. See all »
Luke Josiah Spink, age 31 (USA)
Negative—John was absolutely correct in this biblical critique of a film that serves to cloud our vision of heaven with it’s new age message and imagery and place heaven on trial with a little kid as the judge of what goes. Instead of clarifying our relationship with Yeshua the Messiah (the Hebrew renditioning of the name Jesus Christ) and his atoning sacrifice for sinners, this child in this film (who is at the age of accountability) seems to enter through the gates of a strange heaven by an unknown means. Scripture is quite clear that it is only through the atoning blood of Yeshua the Messiah that we are covered, cleansed and can enter-in to Adonai’s presence. There is only one anointed Prophet, Priest and King who can reveal what heaven is (not like, but IS)… and that is Yeshua the Messiah, Adonai’s anointed One.

Fallen angels may take on pleasing forms, but only Adonai is Kadosh or Holy and filled with glory. This you will not be able to describe with a thousand books. Wouldn’t it seem uncomfortably strange if Adonai presented his church with two highly differing accounts of heaven, with the later account coming to us two thousand years after the one delivered by Yeshua? Were all of the believers from then until now left with a false view of heaven? Perhaps this film does not directly make such a claim, though it is the inescapable conclusion if you compare what this child says to what Yeshua the Messiah has already said. The two testimonies are incompatible. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: none
Luke Josiah Spink, age 31 (USA)
Negative— My teen daughter and I went to see the movie. Todd Burpo didn’t seem like a Godly man. His supposed sermons were a joke. Where was the real prayer and preaching of God’s word? Also, how did a little 4 year old boy learn that song from Queen? Is this what his Pastor Dad, listens to? At that age I only knew songs like “Jesus Loves Me.” We were both disgusted with this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½
Anna, age 54 (USA)
Negative—I liked the book but not the movie. It didn’t properly reflect the book. Most of the tidbits in the book that really stood out to me, and that served to convince me that the story is authentic, were missing from the movie. The movie seemed largely pointless. The book, on the other hand, I enjoyed. The main thing it did for me is reminded me that heaven is for real. “Real” as in a place that is just as “real” as the planet we inhabit now. It includes some details that, if true, serve to validate the story. The book has its limitations, because Colton was so young when he visited heaven, and details get fuzzy over time. I am not sure that it was wise to create the Web site and the movie, but I won’t judge that. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
Keith Martin, age 37 (USA)
Negative—I bought this movie because I was going to enjoy showing to others and worth the investment. I was very upset when Sonya made a sexual bondage suggestion on whipping her husband like a dog. First, I don’t like anyone whipping dogs, and two as Christians we are not to engage in hitting and whipping each others. Sonja also suggested sexual advancement for reward, which the pastor accepted. I don’t know if this is in the book, but if I was the Burpo family and a Christian I would not allow my name associated with this movie at this cost of ruining the film with degrading sex as God intended it to be good, and private. I will be seeking a refund on this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
E. White, age 52 (USA)
Negative— I think that Mr. MacArthur’s review touched on everything that was offensive about this film and kept Biblical Scripture in its proper context, wonderfully. However, visions of Heaven, don’t bother me (as long as they are just accepted as visions), and yet, it’s very much possible that God can give the gift of prophecy to certain individuals…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
Joe, age 59 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I greatly enjoyed this movie. I think it truly showed that God loves childlike faith. I think that the acting was very good, and that it really showed the reality of Heaven. I thank God that people are making movies like these, and hope there will be more to come. This movie is definitely worth your time and money. I loved this movie and encourage you to watch it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
Samuel, age 12 (USA)
Movie Critics
…“Heaven is for Real” is better with questions than answers… In terms of pure entertainment, “Heaven is for Real” doesn’t always deliver. …it has those schlocky moments where some eyes will roll, and it probably would’ve been better if we’d simply heard about what Colton experienced rather than seen it. …
Christa Banister, Crosswalk
……a faith-oriented and family-friendly film that will both inspire and vex—much like Colton’s stories affect his own father. … virtually nothing is said connecting a person's beliefs to an eternal destiny. …
Adam R. Holz, Plugged In
…a beautifully made, absolutely enthralling movie that extols Christian faith and God’s love. …
Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…The film is well constructed and engrossing, offering a shining example to Christian filmmakers on how to deal with spiritual matters in a professional manner. …
Phil Boatwright, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…Todd’s lack of critical thinking skills is jaw-dropping. …By rights, “Heaven Is for Real” ought to draw scorn from both atheists and believers alike. It’s a mockery of basic logic that also manages to strip religious faith of its complexity, mystery and nuance. …
Rafer Guzmán, Long Island Newsday
…This bland, earnest yet fairly restrained Christian heart-tugger isn't quite the vomitous bucket of spiritual saccharine the ads would suggest. …
Justin Chang, Variety
…Cleverly circumventing any parental influence, the film allows Colton to deliver his visions in the first person, leaving doubt only in the reliability of everyone’s hearing. What remains could be proof of the Divine or simply the prelude to a tale of how one financially fragile man turned his son’s imaginings — and maybe some of his own — into a phenomenon. This film, at least, has made up its mind. …
Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
…those who might be curious about the film's thesis—will search in vain for a more compelling narrative. …The faithful may well be weeping by the film's conclusion, while others will remain more detached, feeling little except gratitude that they haven’t been bludgeoned into believing.
Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I am disturbed by how many positive reviews this movie has on a Christian Web site. Colton did not go to Heaven. His story does not match Biblical accounts. Don’t be deceived! I have not seen the movie for this reason, but IF you are to watch it, watch discerningly, and with the intent of glorifying the true Jesus and as a discussion starter with unbelievers about what Heaven really is like.
Willow, age 23 (USA)
Negative—I did not view the movie because it is not true to the Word of God found in the Holy Scriptures.
John 3:13 says,” No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (NKJ)
2 Corinthians 12:1-6 says,” It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast except in my infirmities. (NKJ)
I believe Heaven is real, as revealed in God’s Word, but I don’t believe, based on the above scripture, that the book or the movie is a Biblical account of a human going to heaven before Christ return to earth and the Rapture. I could write a long review of this topic based on my interpretation of scripture, but I’ll just let Scripture speak for itself, I could not do any better than God’s revealed Word to mankind.

Thank you Jesus for your sacrifice.
Richard Van Rotz, age 75 (USA)
Negative—I didn’t see the movie, but I read the book. If you really want to know about Heaven and God (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), read the Bible. The God I worship reveals to us about heaven in the Bible (His word), and what He wants us to know about heaven. He is about the truth. Not everything that sounds and looks good is right and true. I believe Bishop T.D. Jakes is a man of God. But when I read the book I had to really pray about the truth. And God’s word was to read the Bible. I’m not sure what his thinking was in producing this movie. There should have been a disclaimer. But we all miss the mark sometimes.
Terrilyn, age 53 (USA)

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